Last year, Sha Tin Town Hall staged an event which saw five water tanks on its stage. You’d be forgiven for thinking they contained mermaids or some other strange sea creatures. They actually contained the five members of Between Music – the world’s first ever underwater band.
The Danish band were in the city in October to play a sound-soaked concert called AquaSonic. After they made their Asia debut, we spoke to band members Laila Skovmand and Robert Karlsson about how they developed techniques to sing and play while submerged.
Skovmand said it came about when experimenting with different singing techniques, she put her face into a bowl of water.
“I was looking for new ways to express myself,” she said. “At first, I put my face close to the water [but not into it]. Then, I decided to try singing with my face in the water.”
This experiment has helped take the band to all sorts of venues around the world to perform, from fish factories, to swimming pools, to Sha Tin Town Hall. Skovmand said she wants to reach audiences from all walks of life, because “despite our social and religious differences, water is the one thing we are all connected to”.
“I hope [our performances] raise the question of our limitations and capabilities,” she said. “[I want to] turn the world upside down, so that we see it from a new angle.”
At first glance, the only difference between a live performance by Between Music and any other band is the water. Beyond the surface, though, lies a different tale. It has taken 12 years to make AquaSonic, with lots of experiments and collaborations with professors, divers, and physicists. For instance, Karlsson said, there was the time they decided they wanted to create an instrument out of Tibetan singing bowls.
“We had to test the bowls in at least 10 different spots in the tank,” he said. “The sound is different if they’re even a millimetre off.”
They may be an underwater band, but, obviously the members have to surface for air sooner or later. In all of their pieces, they have pauses when they can rise to the surface to breathe. This ensures their music continues to flow.
Despite careful planning, though, each live performance is unpredictable. The band has realised that their instruments might sound great one day, but not the next. “We learned that there are many variables that can affect the sounds produced underwater,” Karlsson said.
For instance, one of the instruments they use is the crystallophone. Invented in the 16th century, they sound very high-pitched on land. In water, Skovmand said, they produce a much warmer sound. “That’s because the sound is dampened by the density [or heaviness] of water,” she said.
The temperature of the water they play in matters, too. If the water is too warm, the musicians can’t hold their breaths for as long as they need, which can mess up the timing of their music.
So, what’s next for the band? AquaSonic is the first in a series of four music projects inspired by human evolution. The second project is based on creatures moving out of water onto land, where many reptiles started laying eggs – and that might be where the band goes next.
“We are planning on building a huge egg-shaped, portable concert hall which will also work as an instrument on its own,” Skovmand said. “The audience will become part of the performance, too.”